Jonet Rowland's husband has been murdered, and nearly everyone seems to consider her the prime suspect. Her husband was a known philanderer, and she has been seen around London on the arm of a handsome younger man, Lord Delacourt, who everyone believes to be her lover. Not long after Jonet's husband died though, a series of "accidents" began to occur, all of which seemed to involve her two young sons, Stuart and Robert. All these events have combined to make Jonet fearful for her children's well-being and suspicious of nearly anyone who might benefit from their death. To make matters worse, her late husband's brother, James, is trying to take guardianship of Stuart and Robert, claiming that Jonet is an unfit mother. To that end, James tries to convince his nephew, Cole Amherst, to secure a position as tutor to the boys, while spying on Jonet for him. Cole really wants nothing to do with his uncle's nefarious plans, but he also knows what it was like to be orphaned and raised by James, and does not wish the same fate on two innocent children. He rather reluctantly agrees to apply for the tutor position, but flatly refuses to act as a spy. Convincing Jonet to hire him is another matter all together though, because she doesn't trust anyone who is sent by James.
Jonet can be an infuriating hellcat and as protective as a tigress when it comes to her children, but even though her venom invokes an unfamiliar antipathy within him, Cole deftly takes control of the situation, never allowing her to get the upper hand. Cole's firmness and a distant memory of the past where he shared words of comfort with her during a nerve wracking time, combine to give Jonet a tentative sense of peace in his presence, causing her to agree to the arrangement. It doesn't take long for Cole to see the fear in Jonet's eyes and demeanor, and he slowly sets about building her trust while covertly investigating recent events. When more "accidents" occur, Jonet, feeling on the brink of madness from the stress, finally confides her fears and concerns to Cole, even at the risk of sounding crazy. Cole begins to believe her, but is highly suspicious of Lord Delacourt and what role he might have had in the occurrences of late. He also finds himself feeling uncharacteristically jealous of the young viscount's attentions toward Jonet and her seeming affection for him.
From the moment Cole had first entered her sitting room, there had been a powerful, unexplainable physical attraction between him and Jonet. Eventually, living under the same roof proves to be a bit more temptation that either can seem to resist, but when Jonet makes Cole an indecent proposition, he wonders if it is really him that she wants or just another man to warm her bed. Even though Cole experiences a passion with her that he has never felt before, he continues to be acutely aware of Lord Delacourt's relationship with Jonet and his own lower social status. Jonet had thought that one night of passion would get Cole out of her system, but when he refuses to continue their affair, she realizes that the mere friendship he offers simply will not suffice. As the two lovers struggle to sort out their feelings for one another and decide if they really can have a future together, yet another suspicious event occurs, leaving Jonet with the certain knowledge that Cole is the only person she can trust to protect her and her sons, and him in a race against time to solve the crime before the culprit can strike again.
A Woman Scorned is yet another worthy effort from Liz Carlyle, but in my opinion, not the strongest of her novels that I have read to date. As with her other books, A Woman Scorned also contained an intriguing mystery element, this one involving the murder of the heroine's husband. The mystery was a bit more prominent in this story though, and consequently, I felt that it overshadowed the actual romance, in some ways. Aside from a strong physical attraction and mutual loneliness, I found few reasons for Cole and Jonet to fall in love. The author simply did not build the lovely friendship element or include the more swoon-worthy scenes that are often found in her other works. While their love became more evident toward the end of the story, I just did not find their feelings for one another earlier in the book to be entirely convincing. I believe that the time devoted to the mystery simply left limited space for good relationship development which was a bit disappointing, since these two characters had absolutely sparkled as secondary characters in other books. While I like a good mystery, this one did not hold my interest as much as it perhaps could have, due to the fact that I discerned the culprit very early on, though at least I was way off base on the character's motive and did not really figure that part out until the reveal. In all fairness though, I went into this book having read a later book that ties in with it, and therefore already knew that a couple of the characters who had been set up as suspects could be eliminated. Without that information, I doubt that I would have solved this part of the mystery so easily. All in all, for this only being Ms. Carlyle's second book, it was a still a good read.
I thought that the characterizations of the hero and heroine were well-done and full of interesting complexities. Cole had held a variety of positions including that of scholar, tutor and military captain, in addition to being an ordained minister. He is filled with guilt and regret over the death of his first wife with which he must come to terms. On the surface, he seems very controlled and reserved, but inside he is seething with unfulfilled passion that just the right woman can unlock. Cole is highly intelligent, regularly engaging in battles of wit with Jonet. Although she could be very willful, he never let her get the best of him and always gave back as good as he got. This made for some highly charged and amusing banter between these two characters. Jonet was not a woman who was afraid to let her passions be know, but also carried a certain reserve due to fear over her sons' safety in the wake of their father's murder. I thought her devotion to her two sons as well as other characters in the story was highly commendable, and I also liked that she lived her life according to what she thought was right instead of what society dictated. Once she began to trust Cole, she was very bold in her pursuit of him, even though he was below her in social status. I found her boldness and directness to be admirable, as well as fun and sensuous, leading to a delightful, burning hot love scene near the end of the book that one might playfully characterize as Cole's "taming of the shrew". Also, both characters were very intuitive of the other's needs and feelings which I found quite endearing. Even though the actual romance between these two could have had a stronger foundation and they were near polar opposites, it became obvious by the end of the story that Cole and Jonet were made for each other. It was not difficult to imagine them living a long and happy life together with nary a dull moment, which is probably why they were such stand-out characters in future novels.
While I do enjoy introspection, I felt that a bit too much of it became a partial contributor to some pacing issues in the narrative of A Woman Scorned. The other part I attributed to the lack of the spirited secondary characters that I so enjoyed in Ms. Carlyle's other books. There were no scene-stealers like Kem or Bentley, and the supporting characters who were present just didn't quite have the same lively quality as some that had appeared in other stories. Even if they were a bit more reserved, there were a few notables. David, Lord Delacourt was an enigma and I'm sure I would have enjoyed his presence in this story much more if I hadn't already known his secret from reading A Woman of Virtue in which he is the hero. He also put in an appearance in No True Gentleman. I found Stuart and Robert to be very charming children with opposite personalities, Stuart being rather shy and Robert being more outgoing. I thought that they were realistically rendered in that they often argued and misbehaved like young boys do, but yet they were never obnoxious. Stuart and Robert (though much more grown up) also appear in A Woman of Virtue and The Devil You Know. Edmund Rowland was a rather distasteful character who also pops up in A Woman of Virtue, as does Lady Delacourt, and Charlotte Branthwaite, David's mother and sister respectively. Just as she does in most of her books, Ms. Carlyle also uses a few animal characters to good effect, helping to set the tone for the human characters and overall story.
As one might guess from the overlapping characters, A Woman of Virtue is the book most closely related to A Woman Scorned actually picking up the story precisely where this one left off. I personally, however, still recommend reading the books in chronological order to receive the full effect of all characters on the canvass, as I have come to the conclusion that Ms. Carlyle used her first three books, My False Heart, A Woman Scorned, and Beauty Like the Night to create three separate family groups who are then intermingled freely in subsequent books. Even though I didn't think it to be the author's best effort, I found A Woman Scorned to be a pleasant and enjoyable read. Ms. Carlyle remains one of my favorite authors and I look forward to continuing my exploration of her backlist.
Note: Ms. Carlyle's didn't used to officially consider her books as series, but recently she began grouping them together on her website. A Woman Scorned is now listed as book #2 in the Lorimer Family & Clan Cameron series. However, I would advise readers that Ms. Carlyle's character web is very complex, with past and future characters popping up throughout all of her books. With this in mind, it is my opinion that the reading experience would be greatly enhanced by beginning with Ms. Carlyle's first book, My False Heart, and continuing to read them in their publication order. The entire backlist, in order, can be found on her website.
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